History, Legacy & Showmanship
Thursday, 22 December 2016 18:00

A Million to One: Remembering “Rocky” on its 40th Anniversary

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Rocky deserves to be celebrated first because of how it’s always made people feel: capable and empowered. Then there’s the fact that it’s also a cultural landmark. Rocky gave us the fanfare, the song, and the proper use of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s front steps.” — I, of the Tiger author Eric Lichtenfeld

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective article commemorating the 40th anniversary of the release of Rocky, the award-winning and franchise-inspiring boxing classic starring Sylvester Stallone as the titular character.

Directed by John G. Avildsen (The Karate Kid, Lean on Me) and produced by Irwin Winkler & Robert Chartoff (Raging Bull, The Right Stuff), Rocky showcased memorable performances by Carl Weathers as opponent Apollo Creed, Talia Shire as love interest Adrian, Burgess Meredith as trainer Mickey, and Burt Young as friend and Adrian’s brother Paulie. Nominated for ten Academy Awards (and winning three including Best Picture), the film made a star out of Stallone, featured Bill Conti’s rousing music, turned millions of moviegoers on to boxing, and created a newfound purpose for the steps leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. [Read on here...]

For the occasion The Bits features a compilation of statistics, trivia and box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context; passages from vintage film reviews; a historical/reference listing of the film’s first-run theatrical engagements; and, finally, an interview segment with an esteemed group of film authorities and historians.

A still from Rocky (1977)



  • 1 = Box-office rank among films in the Rocky franchise (adjusted for inflation)
  • 1 = Number of opening-week engagements
  • 1 = Peak Billboard chart position for Gonna Fly Now
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1976 (legacy)
  • 2 = Rank among United Artists’ all-time top-earning movies at close of original run
  • 3 = Box-office rank among films in the Rocky franchise
  • 3 = Number of Academy Awards
  • 3 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1977 (calendar year)
  • 6 = Number of sequels and spinoffs
  • 7 = Number of weeks North America’s top-grossing movie (weeks 10-16)
  • 8 = Rank on all-time list of top box-office earners at close of original release
  • 10 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 15 = Rank among top-earning movies of the 1970s
  • 20 = Number of days of principal photography
  • 26 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
  • 36 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement (in a single-screen theater)
  • 52 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement (in a multiplex)
  • 78 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation)
  • $5,488 = Opening day box-office gross
  • $33,809 = Opening week box-office gross
  • $1.6 million = Production cost
  • $6.8 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $55.9 million = Domestic box-office rental
  • $107.8 million = International box-office gross
  • $117.2 million = Domestic box-office gross
  • $222.9 million = Domestic box-office rental (adjusted for inflation)
  • $225.0 million = Worldwide box-office gross
  • $430.1 million = International box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $467.6 million = Domestic box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $676.3 million = Domestic box-office gross (entire Rocky franchise)
  • $897.5 million = Worldwide box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $1.6 billion = Domestic box-office gross (entire Rocky franchise; adjusted for inflation)



Rocky is a movie overtly about a boxer, a stale jock in his decline, which is knee-deep in clichés without tripping over any of them. It is a simple story that is not simple-minded; it is a warm and human film with blunt emotions leavened by humor and above all, it is a totally derivative movie that manages to be original…. We live in a time that disparages heroism because there is no longer an accepted definition of it, and Stallone has been smart or, more accurately, sly enough to sense the gap that is left. He has filled it with earthy humor, poignance and decency and there is still enough of that around for Rocky to find the vast audience and success that it deserves.” — Desmond Ryan, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Rocky is a pugnacious, charming, grimy, beautiful fairy tale. A formidable accomplishment. One of the best scripts and performances of the year.” — John Simon, New York

“There have been a number of first-rate American films released in 1976, but none has combined, to the degree Rocky does, artistic excellence, emotional impact and a good, old-fashioned, romantic, happy ending. It is both gripping and up-beat — that rare bird which is a so-called audience picture and a so-called critic’s picture.” — John L. Wasserman, San Francisco Chronicle

“The climactic fight sequence is brutal and breath-taking — guaranteed to reduce even the most skeptical observer to a quivering fan. Even the most jaded preview crowds have burst into applause at the film’s closing.” — David Ansen, Newsweek

“Not since The Great Gatsby two years ago has any film come into town more absurdly oversold than Rocky, the sentimental slum movie…. Under the none too decisive direction of John G. Avildsen, Mr. Stallone is all over Rocky to such an extent it begins to look like a vanity production. His brother composed one of the film’s songs and appears briefly, as does his father, while his dog, a cheerful mastiff named Butkus, plays Rocky’s dog. It’s as if Mr. Stallone had studied the careers of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola and then set out to copy the wrong things.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times

“A lot of [the credit] goes to Stallone when he wrote this story and then peddled it around Hollywood for years before he could sell it. He must have known it would work because he could see himself in the role, could imagine the conviction he’s bringing to it, and I can’t think of another actor who could quite have pulled off this performance. There’s that exhilarating moment when Stallone, in training, runs up the steps of Philadelphia’s art museum, leaps into the air, shakes his fist at the city, and you know he’s sending a message to the whole movie industry.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Rocky is a glowing tribute to the human spirit. A wonderfully tender love affair. It’s the creation of a truly sensational new talent, Sylvester Stallone.” — Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News

A still from Rocky (1977)

“A delightfully human comedy that will undoubtedly wind up as the sleeper of this movie year. Packed with comedy, perception, and sensitivity, Rocky is a sincere, rousing film that raises the spirits and gladdens the heart.” — Judith Crist, Saturday Review

“Writer Stallone’s own acting in the central role is an expert catalogue of dese-dem-dose speech patterns and Adorable Bum mannerisms. At times his work is more like a nightclub routine than a complex characterization. But lovable he sets out to be and lovable he is, and you’d need a heart of granite not to be cheering for him when the bell rings.” — Clyde Gilmour, The Toronto Star

“[Rocky] gives the movie season a shot of adrenalin. As modern as today, it is nevertheless made like an old fashioned movie, with vitality and heart. A real upper in a year of downers.” — Bob Thomas, Associated Press

Rocky hits right on the button! Rocky seems as brilliantly orchestrated as a fine if raucous symphony…. Stallone’s own performance is a once-in-a-lifetime coming together of man and material…. Rocky got roaring, sustained, standing ovations the likes of which I can’t remember hearing at a movie before.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

“Although Rocky is a familiar kind of screen romance, in which a nobody gets a chance to become a somebody, watching the film is still an invigorating experience. For one thing, it glows with sincerity. It also introduces an outstanding performer, Sylvester Stallone, who has passed virtually unnoticed in earlier, not particularly noteworthy, pictures. Rocky makes a star of Stallone.” — Susan Stark, Detroit Free Press

“Despite realistic touches like Rocky’s apartment and his girl friend’s frumpy wardrobe, Rocky isn’t a realistic movie. The purpose is escapism, and the audience’s howls during a fight scene make it plain that Rocky appeals to the lurking punk in all of us…. Rocky, the Italian Stallion, is kind of hard to take seriously. What, for instance, is an audience to make of a black leather jacketed shakedown man with a fondness for turtles, goldfish and big, dumb dogs?” — Joel Clark, The Grand Rapids Press

“When it opened in New York and Los Angeles late last year, a low-budget movie about a small-time boxer called Rocky was widely heralded as the sleeper of the season. It has since been the subject of a phenomenal media blitz, won two major awards as the year’s best movie, and will undoubtedly figure prominently in the Oscar nominations. When it makes its local debut, Rocky won’t be a sleeper anymore, but if no one’s likely to be taken by surprise by its virtues, neither is there likely to be a significant post-hype letdown. The film is such an exuberant audience-pleaser that it’s practically hype-proof.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

“A great movie? Hardly. Stallone as the next Brando? You’ve got to be kidding. A nice little fantasy picture? Maybe.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“Sylvester Stallone will have to appear in some additional film before it will be possible to tell whether his performance is real craft or just an initial exposure to the actor’s charismatic reality.” — Tom McElfresh, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Rocky is a winner. The movie is the kind of tight, rewarding and entertaining little movie that has kept the industry alive. Indeed, it may be a sign of the present desperate condition of the business that a good film like Rocky seems even better than it is. We’ve had so few genuinely engaging and human-scaled films lately that it shines more brightly by comparison. But, even if it has been overpraised in some quarters, a movie like Rocky deserves our best wishes for the clarity and honesty of its vision.” — George Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“The story is achingly familiar, and the though Stallone has a certain power, he is certainly not the subtlest actor to crawl out from under Marlon’s overcoat.” — Richard Schickel, Time

“Not since Jaws has there been a crowd-pleaser like Rocky, where the pleasure can be gauged by the crowd’s audible response.” — Susan Stark, Knight News Wire

“The movie is a tremendous victory, not only for Rocky, but for its creator Stallone. Both serve as inspiration that the dream of America as the land of untold possibility and opportunity might not be so preposterous after all.” — Donna Chernin, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

“The film has brought a great deal of pleasure to many audiences, and I liked it a lot. But ‘liking it a lot’ won’t do; Rocky is a film which insists you must love it. The truth is, though, that Rocky manipulates its audience as clearly as any 1930’s movie that pops up on the Late Show. There’s nothing wrong with a film’s being manipulative (most of my favorite movies have been knowing, willing manipulators); but John Avildsen’s direction lets us see the strings once too often.” — Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News

“If you already thought boxing is the sport of barbarians, Rocky should do nothing to dispel the notion. If any notion is dispelled, it should be that they don’t make movies like they used to. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they make them better today than they did then. Rocky may be one of those times.” — Ted Mahar, The (Portland) Oregonian

“There are Marty overtones in abundance here, and that’s a strong commercial omen for the $1,000,000 gamble herein. The very best way to enjoy Rocky is not to examine it too carefully; better simply to relax and roll with the Walter Mitty, Cinderella, or what-have-you notion that the least of us still stands a chance of making it big.” — A.D. Murphy, Variety

A still from Rocky (1977)



The following is a (work-in-progress) historical/reference listing of the first-run theatrical engagements of Rocky in the United States and Canada. It is not a complete listing. The objective here was to cite the major first-run markets and principal cities of each U.S. state and Canadian province in which the film first played to illustrate the slow, staggered nature of (most) 1970s era film distribution and exhibition as well as to provide some nostalgia for those who saw the movie during the original release. A sprinkling of small-town and college-town engagements have been included, as well (even though they fall below the population threshold of this project), but understand these represent only a fraction of the thousands of total bookings throughout the many cycles of distribution over the course of the film’s release. The duration of the engagements, measured in weeks, is provided for some of the entries to provide a sense of the movie’s popularity.

For a few of the very largest markets (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, etc.) the subsequent release wave(s) have been included, whereas in most cases only the first booking in a given market has been cited. With a couple of exceptions, “moveover” continuation engagements have not been included.

Some liberties have been taken in regard to some of the generically named theaters (i.e. “Cinema,” “Cinema Twin”). Typically such theaters were located in shopping plazas and as such they have been identified in this work whenever possible by the name of the shopping plaza even if, technically, such wasn’t the actual name of the venue.

Regarding multiplex venues, effort has been made to identify the total number of screens in a complex (at the commencement of the engagement) even if in some situations a “complex” consisted of screens spread out among separate buildings or an expansion/renovation occurred during the run. Additionally, simplified nomenclature for the sake of stylistic consistency has been utilized for venue screen counts (i.e. “twin,” triplex,” 4-plex,” etc.) instead of retaining the (often inconsistent) individualistic usage of numbers or Roman numerals that may have been present in advertising or used on marquees. In cases where the film was screening in more than one auditorium in a complex, both engagements are cited but the numbers provided represent print numbers and do not necessarily reflect the auditorium number in which the film was playing.

In a few cases, the name of a location has changed since 1976/77 (typically due to annexation or incorporation) and such cases have been listed according to the city or recognized name at the time of engagement.

The chain names have not been included, and the work does not include any international or re-release engagements.

The release prints of Rocky were spherical 35mm with an intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and with standard monaural audio.

So…which theaters played Rocky on first release?

  • 1976-11-20 … New York (Manhattan), NY — Paramount (world premiere screening)
  • 1976-11-21 … New York (Manhattan), NY — Cinema II (9 weeks)
  • 1976-12-01 … Los Angeles (Westwood Village), CA — Plaza (20)
  • 1976-12-10 … New York (Manhattan), NY — 86th Street East (9)
  • 1976-12-10 … New York (Manhattan), NY — Murray Hill (9)
  • 1976-12-10 … New York (Manhattan), NY — State Twin (9)
  • 1976-12-10 … Totowa, NJ — Cinema 46 Triplex (#1: 6)
  • 1976-12-10 … Totowa, NJ — Cinema 46 Triplex (#2: 6)
  • 1976-12-10 … Woodmere, NY — Five Towns (6)
  • 1976-12-16 … San Francisco, CA — Regency I (15+)
  • 1976-12-16 … San Jose, CA — Century 21 (15)
  • 1976-12-17 … Anaheim, CA — Century 21 Twin (22)
  • 1976-12-17 … Cerritos, CA — Los Cerritos Mall Twin (8)
  • 1976-12-17 … Costa Mesa, CA — South Coast Plaza Triplex (40)
  • 1976-12-17 … El Monte, CA — Starlite Drive-In (15)
  • 1976-12-17 … Long Beach, CA — Los Altos 3-Screen Drive-In (8)
  • 1976-12-17 … Los Angeles (Hollywood), CA — Pix (26)
  • 1976-12-17 … Los Angeles (Studio City), CA — Studio (15)
  • 1976-12-17 … Pasadena, CA — Academy (22)
  • 1976-12-17 … Santa Ana, CA — Harbor Blvd. Drive-In (8)
  • 1976-12-17 … Torrance, CA — United Artists (18)
  • 1976-12-21 … Chicago, IL — Water Tower 4-plex (#1: 20)
  • 1976-12-21 … Chicago, IL — Water Tower 4-plex (#2: 20)
  • 1976-12-21 … McLean, VA — Tysons Corner 5-plex (#1: 27)
  • 1976-12-21 … McLean, VA — Tysons Corner 5-plex (#2: 22)
  • 1976-12-21 … Philadelphia, PA — Eric Rittenhouse Square Twin (#1: 18)
  • 1976-12-21 … Philadelphia, PA — Eric Rittenhouse Square Twin (#2: 18)
  • 1976-12-21 … Toronto, ON — Uptown 5-plex (52)
  • 1976-12-21 … Washington, DC — Avalon Twin (#1: 27)
  • 1976-12-21 … Washington, DC — Avalon Twin (#2: 15)
  • 1976-12-21 … Wynnewood, PA — Eric Wynnewood (21)
  • 1976-12-22 … Boston, MA — Cheri Triplex (27)
  • 1977-01-14 … Goleta, CA — Fairview (16)

[On to Page 2]

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